Most of the time, like ships in the night, we don’t even know they’re there or who they are.
I wonder how many times we’ve stood beside truly remarkable people, extraordinary individuals among us — those who have witnessed incredible events in history and may have even shaped the world in some way — and didn’t even know it.
It probably happens more often than you think.
I’d like to tell you a brief story about someone special I met today. But the surprise isn’t so much in the identity of the person. It was the immense personal reward I gained by reaching out, taking the initiative, and simply being curious. That’s the real blessing of today’s story. I think we need more of that.
It all began with a simple elevator ride at the Sheraton on Canal Street, in New Orleans.
New Orleans is a city where magic happens. We can all be magicians here, even for just a day. The tricks we do are entirely up to us.
I’m lucky to have relatives in New Orleans. But most of my recent visits have been work-related. The World Series of Poker has hosted many events here since 2005.
By my estimate, I’ve spent around 200 days and nights in New Orleans since Katrina happened. That comes out to actually “living here” nearly 7 months. I’ve watched this special city and it’s wonderful people make an incredible comeback. Despite the challenges, they’ve managed to rebuild New Orleans — not just buildings but its spirit — while maintaining the old charm that set this place apart from anywhere else.
Some people don’t care for New Orleans. It’s easy to understand why. The city is filthy. The local government stinks. Crime is a serious problem. The weather sucks. Some of the touristy areas are packed with idiots. There’s also a heavy kitsch element here. But you just need to know places to avoid. More important, you need to know where to go and what to do.
With age (and hopefully wisdom), I tend to prefer nature and learning experiences rather than mingling in big crowds and craziness. Don’t misunderstand — I’ve done Bourbon Street many times and love the music scene. But to really enjoy all this city has to offer you have to get away and look at a side of New Orleans many visitors do not see.
That said, here are some interesting places and experiences you may try that will appeal to those who enjoy culture and history. My recommendations are also tailored for couples. Listed in no particular order, here are some of the fun things Marieta and I have done over the past ten years when visiting New Orleans:
1. Ride the Canal Street-Algiers Ferry — The ferry at the very end of Canal Street doesn’t go very far — only about a mile or so. And it takes you just to the other side of the Mississippi River (and back). In fact, there’s not much to see over in Algiers either, which is over the levy on the opposite side of the river from downtown and the French Quarter. But take this short boat ride anyway. It’s a fun quick getaway and great for taking pictures. Round trip takes less than an hour. Best of all, it’s free. That’s right — F-R-E-E.
2. Visit the New Orleans Zoo — I love visiting zoos and New Orleans has one of the very best in the country. Located within Audubon Park in the Garden District, the New Orleans Zoo has a wide variety of animals, which seem to enjoy plenty of open space and activity. Perhaps the warmer climate here allows for more animals to thrive. Not quite San Diego or Washington, but very close.
3. Visit City Park — Horticulture is extraordinary in New Orleans. The delta soil is rich which allows for more plants and flowers to grow. City Park is a ten-minute drive from the heart of the tourist district and well worth the trip. I recommend a quiet walk on a warm afternoon near the Art Museum (which is excellent — and free on Mondays, by the way). Also recommended is a visit to the New Orleans Botanical Garden, also located at City Park, which has an incredible display of plants.
4. Take a Cemetery Tour — This suggestion will creep out some people. But New Orleans’ geography being below sea level mandates above-ground tombs. Given the city’s mesmerizing history and colorful band of characters, many of these graves have amazing stories. Be sure and take a guided narrated tour, since you can hear about some of the history. By the way, New Orleans is stocked with cemeteries, especially uptown. You’d be surprised by their number and size.
Writer’s Note: I was impressed with the feedback generated by yesterday’s feature on the best restaurants in New Orleans (READ: A RESTAURANT GUIDE TO NEW ORLEANS). It’s good to know many others have similar tastes and recommendations. Here’s a follow up with a review which explains more about a typical New Orleans dining experience.
Translated from the French “bon ton” literally means “good form.” Perhaps the most common expression you might hear is “C’est de bon ton,” which means “this is good.”
When it comes to the famous but quaint Bon Ton Cafe in New Orleans — C’est de bon ton!
I initially heard about the Bon Ton Cafe from a local barber named Jack, owner of Jack’s Barber Shop located on Magazine Street. I took his sage advice and have since visited this holy place about 40-50 times. I’ve since lost count along with the calories. Always a delight (never a miss, not even once), Bon Ton Cafe is one of the most consistent restaurants in the city when it comes to supreme quality.
So, why do I keep coming back?
It all starts with the ownership, Wayne and Debbie Pierce. This lovely couple took over the Bon Ton Cafe way back in 1967 and have since run it daily. Incredibly, during all the times I’ve dined here, I’ve always seen one of the Pierce’s inside the dining room. They make you feel like a personal guest inside their own home. You don’t get that personal touch elsewhere. Charm has become a lost art. Not here. It’s part of who they are and what Bon Ton is.